Lenovo U310 13.3-Inch Ultrabook (Graphite Grey)
Review by Daniel P. Dern
Lenovo Personal Computers ISBN/ITEM#: B009AEPYWQ
Date: 06 February 2013 List Price $749.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Product Page / Specifiations (Leonovo) / Show Official Info /
Lenovo's notebooks are organized into three families: IdeaPad, ThinkPad, and Essential. According to the brief bullet list on the Laptops page, Lenovo IdeaPads notebooks like the U310 are/offer "Optimized for entertainment | Enhanced audio and video | Beautiful, functional design."
For comparison, Lenovo ThinkPads, which are the most business-oriented of the bunch, offer/are "Powered for productivity | Rock-solid reliability | Uncompromised security," and Lenovo Essential notebooks are "No-nonsense features built for versatility | Latest processors | Portable and reliable."
Having now tried a bunch of Lenovo's business-oriented ThinkPad notebooks and their more consumer/entertainment/"content"-oriented IdeaPads, I've come to the conclusion I'm a ThinkPad kind of guy. I prefer the ThinkPad's "scalloped" keys in the keyboard to IdeaPads' flat keys (which, admittedly, help Lenovo shave a few millimeters off the total thickness).
Similarly, I prefer the overall feel, and the more business-y features of ThinkPads. I've got a mostly-"retired" IBM ThinkPad (which puts it at 2005 or older, since Lenovo bought the brand from IBM that year), and I bought a bargain-priced three-pound ThinkPad x120e in late 2012 to be my travel machine... and to tide me over until Lenovo came/comes out with a business ultrabooky ThinkPad -- and the stars and my IT discretional budget align. (I think that the Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook is the right machine... but unsurprisingly, the configuration I'd want is just shy of $2,000. Meanwhile, I've got that x120e.)
That said, Lenovo's IdeaPad U310 ultrabook is a good machine, and reflects Lenovo's stated intent/goals. The machine is thin (0.7 inches), and understatedly elegant (your color choice of Graphite Gray, Cherry Blossom, or Aqua Blue), an easy carry-and-use. At 0.7x13.1x8.8 inches and 3.7 pounds, that's bigger and heavier than an iPad, even one with a Bluetooth keyboard, but it's not something you couldn't carry around all day if you wanted to.
(Note: Lenovo variously categorizes the U310 as a notebook and as an ultrabook. It's not clear to me which configuration options make the difference. Probably the SSD instead of a hard drive, possibly also the inclusion of a 32GB SSD on a HDD machine.)
WHAT'S IN THE BOX
Like any self-respecting notebook today, the Lenovo IdeaPad U310 comes with only one thing in the box besides the machine itself, namely the AC adapter -- which is compact enough that the AC-side wire is larger than the adapter bricklet -- nd a getting-started document. No rescue disks (they're on the hard drive), no other cables. This isn't a criticism; it's great to see that things have gotten this simple. And the odds are that you already have anything you'd need.
The case is aluminum, with rounded edges, designed in a way that Lenovo says makes the U310 "comfortable to hold and easy to open," and I'd agree with both these statements. The IdeaPad U310 is available in colors including Aqua Blue, Cherry Blossom, and Graphite Grey. Other design decisions include the AccuType keyboard, which, while it's not the classic IBM ThinkPad keyboard I like, is good enough. The touchpad is glass, which Lenovo says "makes it smoother, and therefore easier to use for navigation actions like scroll, zoom, and rotate," and supports Windows 8 and five-finger gestures. Plus the touchpad is conveniently large -- and has a "smart sensor" to keep unintended palm-touches move the cursor while you're typing.
The display is 13.3-inch, 1,366x768 wideformat. 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive for storage. There's an optional 32GB SSD cache, which provides better performance and faster wake-up; it doesn't look like my review unit has this, but it wakes up pretty fast anyway.
Graphics on my review unit had an Intel HD 4000 on the motherboard for graphics; some models also offer a separate GPU, along with the ability to switch between them to optimize for quality or runtime.
Ports include Ethernet and HDMI, two USB 3.0's and one USB 2.0, and headset/audio. The keyboard includes media and screen controls (doubling as FN function keys). Stereo speakers with Dolby Home Theatre V4 audio enhancement. Plus 802.11b/g/n WiFI, Bluetooth 1, SD card reader, and a 720p HD webcam.
One interesting feature: Lenovo's OneKey Recovery function to access the Setup Menu, Boot Manager, or One Key Recovery has a small, recessed (so it won't get casually pushed) button at the back left side, rather than forcing you to remember which F1 key to punch to interrupt the boot sequence. (Similar in principle to the button I've got on my old IBM ThinkPad and on other ThinkPads I've seen.) OneKey Recovery can restore the system partition to the initial backup (here, the recovery partition), or from a recovery point created by Windows. (Keep in mind that you lose all data from later than the restore point.) As the last thing before returning the machine to Lenovo, I did this; it took about fifteen minutes to automatically do.
A machine this size can't and won't include everything. There's no optical drive, unsurprisingly in a machine this size; if you want one, you'll have to accessorize. And while there's an HDMI video port, there's no VGA.
Preinstalled software included: Google Chrome, Absolute Data Protect, OneKey Recovery, Office, Adobe Reader, and ooVoo.
MSRP for this model back when I received it $799.99; prices for the current models -- the main difference I'm seeing is Windows 8 rather than Windows 7 -- are comparable on the Lenovo site are similar -- although I'm also seeing some $100-or-more-off sale prices on the Lenovo site, and NewEgg.com has i3-based Win7 and Win8 ones on sale as I look (first week of February 2013) in the $539-$549 range -- about 25% off.
Oddly, the Lenovo purchase page has no hardware configuration options to choose from. On NewEgg.com, I'm seeing U310 models with Intel i3, i5 and i7 processors. But no RAM or disk choices.
In terms of aftermarket RAM upgrades, Crucial.com's free System Scanner tool says the U310 has only a single memory slot, and that the maximum memory is 8GB... which Crucial offers, for $47.99. (Kingston's 8GB for the U310 is, depending on who you buy it through, somewhere between $50-ish and $80-ish.) I'd go for one of these without a second thought. SSD? Harder call, given the 32GB already there, but that's worth considering.
PUTTING THE LENOVO IDEAPAD U310 THROUGH ITS PACES
The U310 is intended for media consumption, along with standard web, email, and Word/PowerPoint/Excel stuff. It's no surprise that it handled all of these easily.
Web browsing, using FireFox, Internet Explorer, and Google Chrome, no sweat. Ditto some Microsoft Word, TextPad (the text editor I typically use), Putty (the SSH client for reading my email). No surprises. I also installed some "gadgets" like a clock display, and performance meters for CPU, battery and network.
On the media side, listening to Pandora "radio" audio, watching an episode or two of TV that I'd failed to DVR, and a handful of movie trailers, like THE HOBBIT, LES MISERABLES, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, THE GREAT GATSBY, THE LONG RANGER). Again, no sweat. Mostly this was streaming; out of curiosity, I tried for the extended IRON MAN 3 preview -- 108MB downloaded within 10 or 15 seconds.
On all these, the color and sound was pretty good. The viewing angle is good enough that two friendly people can watch something, but I wouldn't count on wider-spread crowd having a good view.
Speaking of speedy, I can't tell whether that 32GB of SSD/flash cache improves performance, but wake-up from sleep mode is delightfully quick -- seconds, not fractional-minutes.
All in all, this Lenovo IdeaPad U310 is a nice machine. It's no ThinkPad, but that's not a criticism, just a druther. Particularly given the sale prices I'm seeing, you'd be getting a good machine for your money -- and the ThinkPad that I really want doesn't have a classic ThinkPad-style keyboard either.
Our Other Pubs: